Review by LarryG|
2 stars out of 4
Elastica's 1995 self titled CD was a pop masterpiece, with fast,
fun songs like Stutter, All-Nighter and Annie and the cool synthy
power pop of Connection. Justine Frischmann presented a cocky image
and had the music to back it up. More than five years later, after
many false starts in recording a followup and Frischmann's breakup
with Blur's Damon Albarn(who some say took his songwriting help with
him), Elastica finally released The Menace. The cool, cocky image is
still there but, on The Menace, the music is often lacking.
The Menace generally has two kinds of songs. There are boisterous
rockers, where the band seems to be having a good time, and
atmospheric synth pieces that are generally pretty insubstantial. The
Menace starts fairly promisingly. Mad Dog God Dam is edgy and
energized by a slicing guitar, fun synths, thick bass and quick drums.
Frischmann's tough vocals match the lyrics about a strong woman who
declares, "don't want you on your back, I just got on my feet." The
rest of The Menace's rockers are noisy, cacophonous and usually not
too interesting. How He Wrote Elastica Man is a good time, partly
because of vocals and lyrics by The Fall's Mark E. Smith, an expert in
making noisy cacophony fun. How I Wrote Elastica Man has the anarchic
spirit of a Fall song. Over a cheesy/spooky keyboard, Frischmann and
Smith yell out the letters of Elastica like demented cheerleaders. The
band follow with expressions that only sometimes match the letters.
With his typically filtered vocals, Smith mumbles things like "break
through class barriers." It's good that Frischmann presents an image
of a confident woman but her shrieked vocals on Generator and Your
Arse My Place are cutesy and annoying. KB is fairly irritating.
Frischmann yells out things like "kickin' it out" over a thin, harsh
Nothing Stays The Same, one of the few songs featuring original
Elastica guitarist Donna Matthews, is The Menace's luminous highlight.
It shows Frischmann can still create a pop gem. Nothing Stays The Same
has the echoed atmosphere and clear, stark percussion of a Phil
Spector girl group confection. Delicate guitar, keyboards and backing
vocals underline Frischmann's cool, subtle, bittersweet delivery of a
song about being disappointed("being best got bitter") and trying to
find peace of mind. The rest of the synthesizer based songs are better
on mood than content. Almost all of the band from Elastica's debut is
gone for The Menace. Frischmann has apparently put together a good
band but they often don't have much to work with. Image Change's
meditation on surface vs. substance and Human's tale of longing have
good, sleek electronic atmosphere but the songs are icy, vague and
uninvolving. Miami Nice, a spacy industrial synth instrumental 80's
throwback never gets interesting. Love Like Ours sounds familiar but
it is striking as it the keyboards keep building in intensity while
Frischmann keeps her cool, repeating "a love like ours will never
die." The muffled, distorted My Sex is pretentious but interesting.
Over minimal keyboards, Frischmann speaks a love poem about "what I
want." She's appealingly vulnerable, saying that she wants "you to be
waiting round the other side of every door", "to make your heart beat
faster" and to "kiss you 'til everything hurts." I like The Way I Like
It's story of doing OK after having "had a lover who was made of sand
and the wind blew him away" but Frischmann's showily nonchalant
delivery makes it less appealing. The Menace ends with Elastica's
faithful remake of Trio's Da Da Da, which like the original is based
on a cheesy, thin percussion line from an early Casio keyboard.
Frischmann tries so hard on most of The Menace to project a strong,
confident personality and to make interesting songs with an attitude
that Da Da Da's simplicity is welcome.
It's a strange thing to say about a record that took five years to
make, but some of the songs on The Menace seem like sketches that
could be better developed. The lyrics often have an compelling sense
of a woman regaining her confidence after a time of transition. But
the music is usually unfocused and unmelodic and is frequently
obnoxious. The Menace seems ambitious but to no particular end and it
doesn't match up to the sleek, energetic simplicity of Elastica's